Friday 23 June 2017

Film review: Patriots Day - gripping and sophisticated

Cert 15A: Now showing

Mark Wahlberg as Sgt Tommy Saunders in 'Patriots Day'
Mark Wahlberg as Sgt Tommy Saunders in 'Patriots Day'
Infatuation blooms: Kristen Stewart in 'Certain Women'

When your lead protagonist is a Bostonian copper in the middle of a crisis, the gig is only ever going to Mark "blue-collar" Wahlberg. While it'd be easy to imagine writer-director Peter Berg yelling "get me Wahlberg on the phone", the pair have made beautiful music together before, with the well-received Lone Survivor (2013) and last year's superb Deepwater Horizon.

The real-life catastrophe Berg charts so deftly this time is the horrific Boston Marathon bombing (and subsequent manhunt) of 2013, which claimed the lives of five victims. Wahlberg plays fictional flatfoot Sgt Tommy Saunders, who is placed alongside a host of excellently illustrated characters at the narrative starting line by Berg and co-writers Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer. Their mornings are filled with banality and calm but you understand that only some of these lives will reach the finish line.

Among them are a young couple in love, a college security guard, a Chinese student and JK Simmons's ageing suburban cop. Linking these disparate but sturdily woven strands are the attackers, the adolescent Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff) and more hardened brother Tamerlan.

This human cross-section, spliced archive clips and visceral location shooting, create a throbbing sense of the city's pulse that becomes the engine of Patriots Day. As with Deepwater Horizon, Berg brings the situation to the boil with masterful intuition, and he doesn't waste time trying to rationalise the killers' hatred. When the FBI machine (led by Kevin Bacon's chief) swoops onto the scene of the massacre, a fine monument to the victims becomes a gripping and sophisticated police procedural. Very hard to pick holes in.

★★★★★

 Hilary A White

Best

Cert 12A: Now showing

From the outset, documentary maker Dan Gordon had the idea of getting George Best to narrate his own story.

The football legend, who died in 2005, has been the subject of many biographical studies, but Gordon wanted to use the man's own words to tell this version.

It was a process he had inadvertently begun during research for his acclaimed documentary Hillsborough and, after scouring interviews and archives, what results is very effective. George Best pretty much in his own words.

The film opens with an anecdote from Best's first wife, Angie (their son Calum does not contribute), in which she tells of driving her baby in the rain to a doctor's appointment and seeing a very drunk man staggering along the road. When she realised that it was her husband, she just kept on driving.

The narrative then turns back to the very early days of his career at Man Utd and works its way forward, creating interesting parallels between the success and decline of man and club, the stewardship of Matt Busby and the perils of fame.

Not surprisingly Gordon found it more difficult to get recordings of Best when the going was not good - therefore much of the telling of that part of the story falls to the three main women in his life, Angie, Jackie Glass (now monk Ani Rinchen) and Alex Best.

The sum total is effective and certainly no hagiography, it paints a rather complete and sad story.

★★★★

Aine O'Connor

A Cure For Wellness

Cert 16: Now showing

Genre-hopper Gore Verbinski (the Pirates of The Caribbean films, Rango) made his name with the 2002 smash The Ring, which re-shot a Japanese cult horror for the Western palate. A Cure For Wellness, a fun gothic thriller somewhere roughly between Dracula and Shutter Island, perhaps offered him an opportunity to revisit that dark side with lessons learned from those big-budget interim years.

Aesthetically, this seems the case. There are no big-league stars, you notice, as Verbinski pours much of the modest $40m resources into look and effect. Nonetheless, Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, Kill Your Darlings) is perfectly anaemic as Lockhart, the Wall St drone sent out to a mysterious health retreat in the Swiss Alps to bring back a missing executive.

There, he finds twitchy locals, an uneasy perfection to every surface and smile, and a waifish, loner girl at the periphery of the wealthy guests, played by Mia Goth.

Offering no straight answers is spa director Dr Vollmer (Jason Isaacs), and when a freak accident forces Lockhart to stay, he begins to sniff around as things get increasingly twisted. Verbinski's film is certainly one of the most visually arresting horror films since The Witch last year, allowing it to mine much macabre beauty and freak-show spectacle out of its unremarkable plot. It is, however, almost two-and-a-half hours long, with the final 30 minutes losing the plot - and the audience - altogether.

★★★

Hilary A White

It's Only the End of the World

Cert 15A: Now showing

With a wonderful cast and interesting plotline I was looking forward to this French family drama, It's Only the End of the World (Juste La Fin Du Monde). Plus, it only runs for 95 minutes, a rarity which has started to become a bonus point in itself. But Xavier Dolan's film of his play didn't really work for me.

Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) returns to the family he hasn't seen for 12 years to tell them that he is dying. His mother (Nathalie Baye) has moved from the old home with the youngest daughter (Lea Seydoux) and summons her oldest son Antoine (Vincent Cassel) and his wife, Catherine (Marion Cotillard) for lunch. They don't know Louis's news.

It's supposed to be about self-pity and self-involvement stymying empathy, but the characters are more caricatures and it felt overwrought, overthought and the huis clos creates a claustrophobia that serves to overcook the performances instead of enhance them.

Still I suspect some people will enjoy the French intensity. Chacun a son gout and all.

★★

Aine O'Connor

Certain Women

Cert: 12A. In selected cinemas from Friday

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Infatuation blooms: Kristen Stewart in 'Certain Women'
 

Laura Dern's small-town Montana lawyer is trying to do right by a client (Jared Harris) who holds grievances against his former employer following a workplace injury claim. Elsewhere, a young mother (Michelle Williams, still determined to play only the most miserable of roles) bickers with her husband while overseeing the building of a new house. Lastly, a lonely ranch worker (part-native American actress Lily Gladstone) wanders into a night class taught by another lawyer, this time the young and overworked Beth (Kristen Stewart, above). Infatuation blooms.

Kelly Reichardt's earthy but glum triptych is based on stories by writer Maile Meloy and sends veiled greetings back to her favourite themes (isolation, the US frontier, emotional navigation). Six films in, though, and Reichardt still can't do endings.

★★★

Hilary A White

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